Last week in an email discussion with a friend over what the responsibilities of the Gentile are to the Torah, he said, “I never said a Gentile couldn’t go beyond the minimum standard set in the Acts 15 halachic ruling, I just don’t think it is an obligation and that it is disobedience to God if we don’t.”
Dozens of times I have addressed from various angles the fact that Yahweh has one standard for righteousness and more than a few times we have specifically discussed parts of Acts 15. Where I wanted to challenge my friend was in the Gentile obligation to Torah and whether it is disobedience to God. I countered,
Okay… here’s a question to ponder:
In this email and in your last post as well as your reply to me you seem to say that it is okay for Gentiles to follow Torah, but it is not mandatory. Your advice seems to be, ‘Don’t worry about it, just wait for the Messiah to arrive and straighten it out.’
I know I am over simplifying, but that seems the general thrust of your thought. so…
Isaiah 66:18-24 seems to be about the Messianic age. Would you agree?
If so, then vss. 15-17 ought to scare the cr@p out of ALL flesh (vs. 16) and someone should be teaching that swine is unclean. Is the blood of those judged on the Jews’ hands, or is it on yours and mine? Or, both?
My assertion is that in Isaiah 66:16-23 we are clearly warned that “the Lord will execute judgment by fire, And by His sword on all flesh,” and one of His targets are “Those who … eat swine’s flesh, detestable things and mice…”
Clearly, this passage points to the judgment by fire spoken of as occurring at the Day of the Lord. Pursuing the passage a little further reveals a sequence of events at the beginning of the Messianic age that leads to “23 “And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all [g]mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord” which may occur during the Messianic Kingdom or in the New Heaven and New Earth. In either case, it describes future events. The point being that ‘all flesh’ in both the beginning and end of this passage that appears to be a continuous flow of events point to ALL people being required to keep dietary laws and the Feasts of Yahweh. Not just Jews and not an option.
My friend responded to my question with,
I’m uncomfortable taking one little slice of scripture and making it a complete theology about Gentiles and the Torah, but it’s quite possible and likely that vv 15-17 specifically address the nation of Israel and the following verses address Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic age. Isaiah especially wasn’t written in an incredibly linear fashion, so we can’t read it as we would a modern narrative. Even portions of the Torah seem to jump back and forth in time. I’d have to go over Isaiah in more detail *and* I’d have to consider that portion of Isaiah in the larger context of the whole Bible.
While I completely agree that Isaiah does seem to skip around at places, this passage looks very linear to me. I also completely agree that we must look at the larger context of Isaiah and the Bible as a whole, which is exactly why I see over and over the fact that God has one unchanging standard for all men. When non-Jews come to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they come to His standard and learn to walk as grafted in members of the commonwealth of Israel… but, I digress. (Note: I maintain that rabbinic interpretation of Torah may be the distinctives/yoke that are Jewish. I am bound by Torah, not rabbinic halacha.)
So, according to my friend, ‘all flesh’ in vs. 16 ‘likely’ refers only to ‘nation Israel’ while ‘all flesh’ a few verses later refers to ‘all flesh?’ (Yes, my face is totally contorted at this point…) In an effort to understand the phrase ‘all flesh’ a little better, I started to dig…
Isa 66:16 כי באשׁ יהוה נשׁפט ובחרבו את־כל־בשׂר ורבו חללי יהוה׃
Isa 66:23 והיה מדי־חדשׁ בחדשׁו ומדי שׁבת בשׁבתו יבוא כל־בשׂר להשׁתחות לפני אמר יהוה׃
Isa 66:24 ויצאו וראו בפגרי האנשׁים הפשׁעים בי כי תולעתם לא תמות ואשׁם לא תכבה והיו דראון לכל־בשׂר׃
The phrase translated as ‘all flesh’ is כל־בשׂר, transliterated as kol basar.
The first place I find this phrase is, interestingly, in a judgment passage!! Genesis 6:12,13,17 and 19 all use it with verse 19 including not just people, but all animals as well. Literally, ALL flesh!! Again it is used in Genesis 7:21; 9:11 & 17 in forms that easily and unambiguously encompass ALL humans with context sometimes including animals as well.
Rounding out the Torah uses that e-sword helped me find, Leviticus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 5:26 again point ONLY to ALL flesh or ALL mankind. I have not found a single use that points to a subgroup of people. Additional references to verify: Job 34:15; Psalm 65:2; 145:21; Isaiah 40:5-6; 49:26; Jeremiah 32:27; Ezekiel 20:48; 21:5; and Zechariah 2:13. [For your ‘word search’ pleasure, all previous linked references lead to a side-by-side English and Hebrew version that allow you to find כָּל־בָּשָׂ֑ר in each. The last three are unlinked because the Hebrew numbering is different than the English… Find all three in the Leviticus reference. Have fun!!]
The point is, if ‘all flesh’ ( כל־בשׂר ) means ALL FLESH, and I find zero evidence that it can mean otherwise, then we had better NOT be telling Gentiles that parts of Torah observance are ‘optional’ because Isaiah 66:16 clearly indicates they will be judged for eating the unclean. If we do tell them it is ‘optional,’ then their blood is on our hands. Rather, in the most loving manner we can, we need to contend for the truth of the Word: God has one standard by which He will judge ‘kol basar’ and we best be leading people toward it, not away from it!